Being a Tourist in Chicago


I brought my camera to work the other day, so during my lunch break I went for a little stroll – tourist style. (: Chicago is so BLUE and beautiful! To be honest, I never liked bringing my camera into the city because I didn’t want to give off an impression as a tourist. This is my house and I’m going to put my feet up on the coffee table if I want, kinda thing. But I realize that mindset is pretentious and not to mention, stupid. Because when you’re a tourist, you look at the town with a different pair of lenses and you’re a lot more open-minded to do things that are out of your comfort zone. Suddenly all those free, crowded events don’t sound so lame, and the new restaurants popping in look enticing, and sitting in Millennium park after a food truck makes for the perfect Saturday afternoon.

My motto for this summer: 

What does that mean for me? Run a 5k, attend a summer festival for a different city/state, have a picnic, make a video, go on a road trip, host a board game night, make s’mores, watch a movie at a drive-in, play sports regularly, go fishing, win free tix from a radio show, rent a bicycle for the day, purge my closet, find a hike path, run a 100 miles, frisbee on a beach… just to name a few. Hold me to it? 
Being a tourist in Europe was great and so fun. But this, this is the beautiful town I live in and am so proud to call home. (: And I’m ready to unlock its secrets the same way.


What’s on your summer bucket list?



London Street Markets

I think over the past few months I’ve gained a new appreciation for and liking to food markets. There’s just something about all the hustle and bustle that really pulls my heart strings…the fresh food, writing on chalk boards, quirky branding, free samples, and sounds of chatting and eating. In London, we visited two of their larger street markets, Camden Town and Borough Market, both really different from each other but also both abundant with food (and free samples). (;

* Camden Town is actually the location of where my iphone was stolen the first time. 

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black & white | a photo diary

In my Photography 101 class, black and white composition has been the conversation of late. We took a field trip to Scavi Scaligeri to study the variety of techniques and styles, we watched documentaries and studied works of Henri Cartier Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism; and most recently, we went on a photo walk to apply what we had learned.

Inspired, I decided to take a stab at B & W myself — digitally altered, of course — to show my new found appreciation.

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And this last one is for sh*ts and giggles. “Tua mama.” Italians can be low-brow, after all.


Lunch in Bolzano, Dinner in Trento.

Last year when I was reading up on the different study abroad programs U of I provided, one of the things the Verona program offered that caught my attention — I know, as if I needed another reason to go besides the fact that IT’S IN VERONA — was its frequently planned group excursions. AKA pre-paid trips to an array of cities, restaurants, museums, tourist spots, activities, etc. The entire program travels together with all expenses — dining and wining and traveling — taken care of. Some on the lineup include: skiing in the Switzerland alps, dinner in Venice, horseback riding in Asiago, shopping at the Mantova outlets, etc.

Not bad, right? (:

And last Sunday was our FIRST excursion! It was only a day trip, but we were still fortunate to witness a broad scope of Italy. First, we went to Bolzano to sight see, shop around, and visit the museum hosting the Otzi exhibit. Otzi, you know, the “mummified” iceman they found in the mountains and were able to put on display for the public to see.

Bolzano was straight out of a fairytale. Magical and idyllic.

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Bolzano is right near the mountains. So the air is much colder, BUT there is NO WIND. Niente. So the cobblestones, sugared bread on the streets, pastel colored buildings, and the constant still, damp air makes you feel like you’re in Disney World Epcot. Just a large dome with good food and good scenery. Then THAT thought reminded me of my favorite book from junior high about the society that is presented as perfect and real but under all the layers it is actually a dystopia and everything from their dinner conversations to ways of thinking are constructed and manipulated by a higher authority because they are always under surveillance. (Guess the book. Hint. The cover has an apple on it.) Then THAT thought snowballed into all these other creepy pop culture references with altered realities all the way to lunch time when a lady yelled at me in fast and angry Italian and kicked me and my frans out of Burger King. But that’s beside the point. Bolzano was kinda weird and beautiful and uncomfortable all at the same time. Plus I was wearing these chunky rain boots but not a rain cloud was in the sky.

Final thought: Bolzano is one surreal place — for the good or bad.

But one thing holds true whether you are in Verona or Bolzano — Italians love their cappuccino.

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Defrosting our toes and sippin’ on some warm te + caffe. (:

Then ze 25 American tourists hopped back into the bus and headed over to Trento to check out the Castello del Buonconsiglio. THIS WAS SO MUCH FUN. A castle that still remains from the 13th century to real royalty, but now serves as an archaeological site for glimpses into the time period and a gallery of art.

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Hot Dog takes pics with her finger over the flash.
Breathtaking view from one of the castle’s windows.
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^The whole gang cheesing. (:

After the tour of the castle, we had some time to kill before dinner reservations so we roamed around the streets of Trento and sipped on spritzers.IMG_2435 IMG_2440 IMG_2424
The dinner venue was an authentic German restaurant. All of us were starving out of our minds — both from that day, and from being cheap on grocery selections — and since this was considered a pre-paid meal, we all went HAM on ordering way too many dishes.


^ This was a plate of meat covered in meat with a side of meat and some extra meat.


In other news…
– I have my first exam tomorrow.
– I hear back from a few summer internship prospects within the next week. Keep this in your prayers! (:
– Going on our first trip with some friends. (: Right after class we’re taking the tran to Florence for the weekend and then visiting Mantova on Sunday.
– Staying in a hostel for the first time Thursday + Friday. Any thoughts/advice/precautions?

Hope everyone else is having a great week!


Week One Round Up

Happy weekend!

I can’t believe it’s already been a full week since arrival. It feels like time is alwaaays just slipping from our fingers. You walk into one store to look at one thing, you come back out three hours later. A quick bite of gelato? Say good-bye to an hour and a half. Life in Verona is a constant time warp. Or, maybe we’re just having too much fun that time is flying by. (; I don’t know which is more of the logical conclusion. Anyhoo…

School is now in session so this week was less of the leisure walks and four-hour meals and more… I don’t know, school. A very rude awakening that we’re not here on just vacation but to “study” abroad. Oh, yeah. Now my days are preoccupied with a four-hour class of Italian 101 from 9am to 1:15pm, followed by a second class from 2pm to 6pm — depending on the day. Classes range from art history, painting, and photography; and each class (usually) only meets once a week. If it is a full day, by the time we get out, the sun has already set and it’s time to make dinner and go to bed.

But even class tends to fly by. First off Italian 101 is less of a college lecture, and more of a continuous game of charades fused with pictionary. Can you even imagine such a thing? I mean, it’s a room of fourteen people — who are still hungover from the night before and can’t communicate in the same language — trying to formulate their thoughts into sentences. Picture that, and you got yourself Italian 101. But really. There’s a lot of funny hand gestures, drawings on the white board, exchanges of confused looks and blank stares. It’s because the teacher, Elena, speaks solely in Italian as a teaching mechanism to students who don’t know a word of the language (minus vino and ciao, of course). Although there is a lot of time spent on guessing more so than understanding, it is pretty effective because it forces us to THINK in Italian. Sometimes it gets confusing because my brain tends to pull together all my random knowledge of Latin, Korean, Spanish, and English, and then attempt to spit out an Italian answer. Yeah, that doesn’t work out too well. The second the languages seem to have distinct rules separating each other, they share the same word for bathroom or cat, tricking you all over again. Over all though, it’s a really enjoyable period because everyone in the class is eager to learn the language and is pretty cooperative.

Despite all those hours of sitting in class, no worries, we still manage to have our fun. Something new is always going on — a birthday, a special at a nearby bar, a burning of a witch, a chocolate festival, etc. It’s like we’re in Italy or something. For example, this week, our teachers took us to a random cafe in between classes for spritzers which was definitely a change of pace. And on Wednesday I took a class on how to make nutella!

My friend Debbie, back at home, told us that she hates words — and the English language in general — so I should stop vomiting now and just throw in some pics for her easy eyes to enjoy. Here we go, Debbie.

Highlights of the week:

Attended a witch burning, which is a tradition in Italy, symbolizing a new year — along with a really long back story. IMG_1480
We went out to dinner to celebrate the lovely Lauren’s 21st birthday. Birthday girl below.
La pizza in its maximum glory. MMmmMmMmMm.
Attended the chocolate festival where all these local shops set up booths to sell their different slabs of chocolates and products.IMG_1504
The most delicious plastic cup of strawberries + nutella + cream. I’ve been deprived of produce for so long that these juicy, fresh strawberries shocked all my taste buds because they forgot what anything besides carbs or chocolate tasted like.
Truffels on hard bread. 
This man was doing his own little live infomercial. Quite entertaining because really, who would buy this. It costed like 100 euros or something.
It wouldn’t be Italy if vino wasn’t offered somewhere within a 2 mile radius. Or, should I say kilometers. 

I was THIS close to buying these beautiful chocolate covered heels. But then, I knew I would never be able to eat it because it was pretty to look at, and I would try to bring it back home four months later, whether it was in a solid form or not, and then it would melt all over my suitcase and I’d have to clean it later. And I hate cleaning, so. Just kidding. They were like 20 euros.
Hot Dog ordered one of these things and they were…. the most delicious thing ever. Yup, you got it. You’re catching on.
Bought myself a custard-filled croissant because it looked soft and chewy.
My face when I found out it was actually hard and crumbly.
Hot Dog and I went grocery shopping together to cook our first dinner. (: Eurospar is the local grocery store, comparable to a small Jewel.
Literally the most delicious sad we’ve ever had in our life. Made from scratch, might I add. 

Because I’m blogging so much later than the actual events took place, it’s getting much harder to recall different things that happened. Hopefully the pictures of the delicious chocolates kept you interested and distracted you from the lack of (poor) writing. Well, at least now that we have wi-fi in our home, we can expect for some more regular posts with relevant insights!

Thank you for following along on my first week here in Verona — and thank you to those who have been continuously praying for my time here. It’s sometimes hard to find time to reflect and meditate when there’s always something to do, but the Lord has been placing different issues onto my heart that need to be prayed over. Show grace, seek Him, keep fighting. They’re the same prayers, but in a much different context.

It’s definitely been a roller coaster week for me, spiritually — I’m wrestling with thoughts that are so new and different to the stuff that I’m so used to, and I’m learning I need to depend on Him in ways I’ve never thought of. Being without a Christian community, things feel a little unstable as of late. But regardless, I know that God will really expand my heart and eyes to new and better things. I can feel it already, and I get pretty excited.

Thank you again for praying for me and this trip. And let me know how I can pray for you. (:

Day Two + Three

*I know this is extremely past due, but I still wanted to share the rest of the photos from orientation weekend.

Sunday morning everyone was supposed to meet for group breakfast and academic orientation at 9 am, but Hot Dog and I slept through our alarms (surprise, surprise) and ran in halfway through orientation at 11 am. Then throughout the entire day, everyone kept making comments of how delicious breakfast was and finished with, “oh yeah, you weren’t there… After orientation, we all ate lunch at Le Mura and went on a tour around beautiful Verona. Take a look:

^ The placemat was so beautiful I had to snag it for future scrapbooking purposes. (; And fun fact: utensils always come in white paper baggies as shown.
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There’s always street vendors around the plazas, Piazza Bra and Piazza Erbe, both which are walking distance from my house, selling an array of things. From baked goods to candies to scarves and knits hats. I keep trying to resist making any impulsive purchases, but I do give into the panna con nutella time to time.
Everything about Verona’s architecture and design is so colorful and intricate. And meaningful. The v-shaped “roof” symbolizes that this building was in favor of the pope.
We also swung by good ol’ Juliet’s home.
Touching Juliet’s boob for some good luck. It’s a thing.
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Below is the beautiful Piazza Erbe — the plaza for foolish tourists who get jipped by crazy conversion exchange rate and overpriced food. And by foolish tourists, I mean Hot Dog and I.
We climbed a million and one staircases to gain this view. My thighs have never burned so badly.
A really good pic of me.
The gang then popped into a nearby cafe for some espresso. Remember what I told you about the espresso?
Often I’ll run into these 24/7 vending machines in the streets. This particular one sells coffee and snacks, but others sell pharmacy drugs, socks, etc. It’s pretty awesome. Chicago’s gotta get on this.
After the tour, we went out for a family dinner at ZTL 28.
Hot Dog and I enjoying our vino. Our palatte is starting to acquire and appreciate the taste for vino being here. Too bad our faces that soon turn red can’t adjust. #AsianProblems

That’s all, folks. I’m just wondering when and IF Verona’s allure will ever wear off. Will I one day become numbed to the intricate architecture and the sight of sunsets falling on pastel colored buildings?

First weekend in Italy. Survived.

Love at First Sight — Wicker Park

Although I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, my family always lived a comfortable distance away from the city. Specifically, Lombard and Naperville — neighborhoods that were both tucked away from the heart, but still attached by a strip of highways. So it was an odd relationship, between the city and I. I called Chicago home but I never understood it. Not the language, not the culture, not the street names. I was still a tourist snapping shots at the bean and eyes glued to the GPS… but it was my “home.”

Last summer I had the opportunity to find a corner of the city when I landed an internship downtown. I took the 7:46 am train every morning from Naperville to Union Station, stopped by a nearby coffee joint, and walked my 20 min commute to my building, gaining a sense of ownership and familiarity with each step. And throughout the duration of my internship, I started to feel less and less of a tourist. I started to walk the talk — sit in a quiet car to avoid loud children, choose Marianos vs. Au Bon Pain,  respond to emails within the hour you receive them, avoid Jackson at all costs, and ignore pushy taxi drivers. Head straight, earphones in. My taste and knowledge of Chicago was limited to the Loop and that language.

Today, I had the opportunity to see another side of Chicago — a much, much different side — Wicker Park. I spent the day with one of my girlfriends from college, who lives right near the city and is very familiar with it, and  she showed me “her neck of the woods.” It was so fascinating to me that there could be cultures on such opposite sides of the spectrum in one city. If the Loop is fast-paced and pretentious, then Wicker Park is easy-going and liberal. And as much as I admired and adapted into the Loop, I felt immediately accepted and inspired by the ways of Wicker Park.

The air there is inspiring. Brick walls covered in beautiful graffiti. Criss-cross streets jam-packed with sushi bars, cafes, boutiques, thrift stores—

But rather than me tell you why it’s so amazing, let me show you…

This is why I love Wicker Park:

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What’s your favorite part about Chicago?